A new study published on March 1 in the journal People and Nature finds that knowledge about the bird-conservation benefits of shade-grown coffee may not be getting through to the people most likely to respond — birdwatchers.
A team of researchers from Cornell and Virginia Tech surveyed birdwatchers to learn if they drank shade-grown coffee. And crucially, if they did not drink it, then why not?
What is shade-grown coffee?
Though coffee was traditionally grown beneath mature trees — which is where the name “shade‐grown coffee” comes from — since the 1970s most farms have been converted to full‐sun monocultures. These newer coffee farms are devoid of trees or other vegetation, and fail to support ecosystems or biodiversity.
Bird-friendly coffee is shade-grown, meaning that it is grown and harvested under the canopy of mature trees. This process parallels historical coffee-growing techniques. But with most farms converting to full-sun operations, crucial habitats for migrating and resident bird species continue to disappear. Loss of habitat is a key factor in the overall decline of many bird species.
The percentage of Latin American coffee plantations that have converted to sun-grown coffee varies. It is about 15% in Mexico, but more than 60% in Colombia. By 2010, only 24% of the world’s coffee was shade coffee, versus 43% in 1996.
Less shade coffee means more pesticides
Sadly, sun-grown coffee plantations usually use more fertilizers and pesticides, which pollute both the soil and the water. This also leads to loss of habitat for many animals. For example, shade-grown coffee traditionally provided a habitat not only for birds, but also for butterflies, reptiles, amphibians, small mammals, and more.
Research has found that shade‐grown coffee systems an abundance of migratory birds that is in some cases even better than a forest habitat. Some birds that seek shelter in shade coffee plantations include the Cerulean and Canadian Warblers.
Shade coffee is also a successful climate-change adaptation strategy and helps to make the coffee industry more sustainable. An optimal level of trees reduces exposure to increasing temperatures and improves soil health.
Target consumer for shade-grown coffee: the birdwatcher
The conversion from shade‐grown coffee to sun‐grown has prompted the development of environmentally focused certifications, such as Smithsonian Bird Friendly coffee, as one market‐based strategy to incentivize sustainable production of coffee.
Birdwatchers are among the primary target consumers for shade-grown coffee brands. This is in part due to their high propensity to participate in and pay for conservation activities that benefit birds. In the US alone, there are an estimated 45 million birdwatchers.
In the present study, the researchers surveyed 912 people who identified as both birdwatchers and coffee drinkers. Nearly half (49%) of the respondents said they take bird habitat into account when purchasing coffee. Yet only 38% of respondents were familiar with the bird-friendly coffee certifications, and only 9% reported purchasing this kind of coffee.
Consumers who were older, female, and more skilled at birdwatching were more likely to consider birds when purchasing coffee. The main constraints on buying bird‐friendly coffee were lack of awareness, cost, and availability.
Because most birdwatchers considered both social and environmental impacts when purchasing coffee, they may be a promising market segment for many coffee certifications. Indeed, about half of the birdwatchers purchased coffee with organic (50%) and Fair Trade (52%) certifications.
Making shade-grown coffee easier to find in stores
These results suggest that better messaging about the impact of coffee production on bird habitats could stimulate the uptake of bird‐friendly coffee. Other factors to stress are the unique attributes of bird‐friendly coffee, including the high‐quality taste. Finally, advocates should focus on giving consumers easy ways to find and purchase bird‐friendly coffee.
“One of the most significant constraints to purchasing bird-friendly coffee among those surveyed was a lack of awareness,” said Alicia Williams, lead author and former research assistant at the Cornell Lab and Virginia Tech.
“I was surprised to see that only 9 percent of those surveyed purchased bird-friendly certified coffee and less than 40 percent were familiar with it,” she said.
Increasing birdwatchers’ awareness about shade-grown coffee
Increasing awareness about shade coffee and its potential impact on bird populations may include more and better advertising, more availability of the product, and collaborations between conservation organizations and coffee distributors.
“In line with social marketing techniques, addressing constraints on connecting birdwatchers with bird‐friendly coffee is essential to promoting bird‐friendly coffee sales and ultimately facilitating the environmental benefits of shade‐grown coffee.”
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Study: “Tapping birdwatchers to promote bird‐friendly coffee consumption and conserve birds“
Authors: Alicia Williams, Ashley A. Dayer, J. Nicolas Hernandez‐Aguilera, Tina B. Phillips, Holly Faulkner‐Grant, Miguel I. Gómez, and Amanda D. Rodewald
Published in: People and Nature
Publication date: March 1, 2021
Photo: by IvaCastro from Pixabay